Refitting my Newbridge Coromandel “Emmelène”

Refitting a boat takes much more time and money than I thought.  Even if you do most of the work yourself.

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As you may know, I bought a Newbridge Coromandel in February 2016. It’s a 20-foot sailing yacht with a junk rig.  What’s a junk rig?  It’s a Chinese-style sail, fully-battened and raised on a mast that has no stays.  Stays are those wires that you see, like guy ropes, holding up the mast on more-common, triangular Bermudan rigs.

Junks don’t have any stays because the mast simply sticks down through the cabin top and into the keel and is held captive at those two points.  As a child, if you ever made your own sailing boat from driftwood, you probably just shoved the stick mast through the hull of the boat with no other attachments.  Junks are like that.

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My little junk had a significant problem: the mast had been shortened by the previous owner because he felt the boat “tipped too much”.  Furthermore, he had thrown away the bit he’d removed.

Now, I didn’t realise this until I tried to raise the sail, and discovered that not all of it could be deployed before the “yard” – a top batten rather similar to a “gaff” – had already reached the top of the stumpy mast.  In a nutshell, I could only launch 5 out of 7 panels of sail.  This is a bit like fitting tiny wheels on an ordinary bicycle.  I bought the boat sight-unseen and had never thought to check the mast was long enough.  “So THIS is why the boat was so cheap,” I mused, squinting at my vestigial sail hanging forlornly aloft.   The photo above shows what I mean.  Two entire panels are bunched-up (or “reefed”) at the bottom – but there’s no more mast available at the top to raise the sail any further.

Lessons learned:

1: check everything before you buy a boat, then re-check;

and 2: if it’s cheap, there’s a reason.

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So my mast needed extending.  A new mast would have been twice the price that I paid for the boat.  Best of all would have been a new, carbon-fibre one: that was four times my purchase price.

Clearly, this mast was going to need to be extended by my own fair hand, and I had no idea about how to start.  Luckily, my dad is an excellent woodworker and knows a lot about boats in general.  He suggested a Sitka-spruce spar, epoxied into the upper end of the existing mast.  That’s what I did.  With his help; and in his workshop!  Also thanks to mum for the delicious meals that she served throughout the re-fit.  I have very accommodating and generous parents…

The wood and epoxy were sourced from the very-reliable Robbins Timber.  I recommend them.  No, they haven’t paid me to say that.  I’m just a happy customer.

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In the photo below, the white mast-extension at the top can be contrasted with the original aluminium mast, into which it is epoxied.  The join is approximately a quarter of the way down.  If you can’t see it, I did a good job!

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Other jobs included resealing the windows and renovating all exterior woodwork.   The main woodworking job (other than the mast extension) was a new starboard rubbing-strake.   A rubbing strake is the buffer of wood that runs along the side of almost all boats to absorb knocks.  The old one was well-rotted.

This job was one that my dad did almost entirely on his own, reclaiming some scrap teak from an old stairway and scarfing the individual pieces together, longitudinally.  He made two layers, one attached to the GRP hull and the second screwed to that, on top.  Next time it needs replacing, we will simply make the outer layer anew, and screw it on in turn.

The whole lot was treated with a product called Deks Olje, (pronounced “decks oil”) that comes from the Nordics and soaks into the wood rather than varnishing the outside surface.  Supposedly this preserves the wood very well.  We’ll see.

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In addition to the considerable woodwork jobs, dad and I worked on making the cabin more comfortable and this included insulating the quarter-berth bunk.  I could find no more economical way to do this than simply using Evo-Stick glue to affix Lidl bedrolls to the inside of the hull.  It was nice and cosy when I’d finished.

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The only work that I had time to do on the outside of the hull was to sand off the old antifoul and re-apply primer and a couple of new coats of antifoul.   For this, I used Hempel primer and Hempel Cruising Performer.

I was seriously running out of time: the crane was booked for 11 April.  My to-do list was nowhere near finished.

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Lots of jobs didn’t get done.  I have a depth-finder and a chart-plotter still languishing in their boxes and the cabin could do with a lick of nice white paint.  Here’s my temporary arrangement for the plotter:

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My on-board VHF radio still needs to be connected, but in the meantime my hand-held will have to do.  Ditto the mast-head LED light: the wires are all there and the light is installed, but not connected.  Its time will come to shine; but for now, I have no night-sailing planned.

“Sailing” – that’s the key.  I’m disappointed that to date (28 June 2017), I have done exactly NO sailing aboard “Emmelène,” as I have re-named my little Coromandel.  I have a second-hand sail, a thing of beauty, kindly provided by another member of the excellent Junk-Rig Association, which if you have read this far, I encourage you to join immediately, if not sooner.  It’s hard to overstate how useful my membership has been in just one, short year.

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As you can see above, my new sail is junk in shape, but has two sail-sections on each batten.   The small “jibs” sit just for’ard of the mast and this sail provides improved upwind performance, compared to the original sail, which was the one that I could only partially raise, if you remember.  My new sail is slightly too big, but will be excellent in light airs and I’ll simply reef it in a blow.  Reefing (sail reduction, to slow down the boat) is a doddle with a junk-rig.  One of the many strengths of the whole setup.

In summary, I have worked a lot of weekends over the winter and little Emmelène looks very sweet, from a distance.  I’ve become attached to her.

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She feels like she’s mine and I feel utterly at-home aboard.  Having craned her in, dad and I motored her 12 miles to her summer mooring.

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At the time of writing, I am excitedly waiting for my JRA friends to double-check that I have the rigging lines set-up correctly, and a nice slight wind to try out my new sail.  I feel mixed emotions: annoyance at my inability to get everything done in time – and to have not been able to sail yet; coupled with nervous excitement, in anticipation of watching that big sail fill for the first time, and Emmelène leaning into the waves and carrying herself forward…

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2 thoughts on “Refitting my Newbridge Coromandel “Emmelène”

  1. Ha! We have an old expression in English, “nothing ventured, nothing gained…”
    In French, something similar: “It’s better to regret doing something than to regret not doing something”
    Perhaps the Dutch language has a similar proverb?
    I’m looking forward to meeting Siskin and her skipper soon, Antoine.

    Like

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